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Snippet of Write On: 'Judas and the Black Messiah' Co-Writer Will Berson

From Audio: Write On with 'Judas and the Black Messiah' Co-Writer Will Berson

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station description Interviews with screenwriters, producers and more
Write On: A Screenwriting Podcast
Duration: 05:10
Will Berson had been haunted by the story of the murder of Black Panthers leader Fred Hampton by police since his hippy parents told it to him as a child. As Will watched events like the Ferguson riots unfold he realized Fred Hampton's story had to be told.
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Will Berson had been haunted by the story of the murder of Black Panthers leader Fred Hampton by police since his hippy parents told it to him as a child. As Will watched events like the Ferguson riots unfold he realized Fred Hampton's story had to be told.
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Hey, everyone and Charlie Sellers. And I am here with Will Burson today that you, co writer of Judas and the Black Messiah High will. Nice to meet you. Nice. No, thank you for joining us. I know you're so busy with press, so I want to get straight to the point. We've been Twitter friends for a little bit, so this is really fun for me to see your project and to go. That's my Twitter friends like I like your button to I can see it. No one else can. What does it say? It says Move on over or we'll move on over you. It's a prop from the movie. I got a bunch of button props and I was gonna say, Were you able to go on set? Yeah. I was on set for the final two weeks, which was amazing, which is absolutely the best great experience of my life by far. That's really rare. Sometimes they don't let writers like you and I go on s Oh, yes, I I realized it was incredibly incredibly kind of them on. I try to stay out of the way for for everyone who doesn't know can you give us the synopsis of Judas in the Black Messiah? Sure, it is inspired by a true events on Bit's about the head of the Chicago Black Panther Party. A guy named Fred Hampton, who was amazing, who was leading the CPU chapter in May would when he was a kid at the age like 14. And in some ways he was Obama generation. Before Obama, he was studying pre law. He was incredible speaker. He was obviously a community organizer. And he had He sort of had the benefit of starting the Illinois chapter two years after you, A. P. Newton and Bobby Seale started the national chapter in Oakland. So I think I think he was able to kind of come in with a bit of head start logistically, but also basically within six months. He made it arguably the most effective and successful chapter in the country and immediately got the attention of J. Edgar Hoover. I mean, he had FBI file since he was probably 14 or 15, like, clearly had a file since he was in early teenager, but certainly once he started effectively organizing in Chicago trying to unite the Panthers and this sort of black, the black gangs or community organizations. That was one red flag. And then once he once he's able to start the Rainbow Coalition, unifying the Black Panthers with Puerto Rican young lords and even the sort of Southern white immigrant white white people called the young Patriot organization I think that was the real threat. And the stories about a new format who gets sort of planted in the Panthers to try to help the FBI take down Fred Hampton. And the guy's name was William O'Neal. Real guy. Um, all that stuff is basically true. Yeah, I did a deep dive after the movie yesterday because I never learned any of this in schools. Shocking, but not surprising. So how do you fit into this puzzle piece? What came first? Was it the project or when did you write it? Like give us the whole leading up Thio the premier right now? Okay, I'll give you the spiel. My parents were good aging hippies, and they told me about for Hampton when I was a kid on guy. So I've known about his awful story that's haunting my whole life, and I grew up in New York. I'm a native New Yorker. I grew up in the eighties Underwood, Giuliani or in our gets Amadou Diallo. Abner Louima, sort of the police brutality. Systemic, chronic police brutality was omnipresent in my life, if not a daily existential threat. Because I'm white and the story, it sort of stuck with me. And then, starting in 2009 with Oscar Grant murder that was captured on cell phone video, I feel like within a couple years, in the early in the early tens, every couple of weeks, like I want to try. Some months there was another video of an unarmed black man women or Children being killed by police. And by summer 2014, Eric Garner, Mike Brown were killed about, I think, three weeks apart and Mike Brown's murder obviously set off the Ferguson uprising on. I think at that point I felt like it was a story that sort of had to be told, and it was so it was so horrifically being recapitulated and nothing was changing and Hampton Story had to be told. I e did a ton of research. My mom's a retired high school librarian. I think she sort of beat good research skills into me when I was a kid and I'm a writer, so I'm lazy. So if I have an idea and I order $200 with the used books and I spend five or six months reading, I can tell myself I'm working without actually that means right s a ton of research. You know, I went on Jay store, I got scarlet articles, I got news, I ordered books, I ordered dissertations and even masters DCs from Proquest. I read everything I could and sort of shockingly, but not so shockingly. There was very little written about Fred Hampton. I think the the efforts to either either vilifying or simply erase them have been pretty successful. But I did find a research. I wrote a spec script. It was definitely, you know, pushing a boulder uphill a little bit in terms of, you know, trying to do a period piece that was predominately black and very political and etcetera, etcetera. And I kind of thought I got some good responses to it, but sort of nothing. Nothing huge. And I thought because the story is so intensely awful, because for Hampton was so naturally funny. I thought about trying to get a comic who could act to play him. And in my in my draft there were a lot of his speeches, which I which I felt I've been sort of disabused this notion. But I felt that time could and should be set pieces and could feel like Chris Rock's Been the Pain or Eddie Murphy's delirious because he was so funny and not to be not a glib kind of common relief, but tohave to have his intrinsic wit as a kind of a little bit of a salve or reprieve from how horrible the story is.
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